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Seniors Teach Newcomers at Greenspring Village

8/1/02

Greenspring Village resident Frances Huenemann tried to explain synonyms and homonyms in the 30-minute English class where residents are teaching non-English-speaking employees. She was one of a few residents that had small groups of students around the room.

"The leaf on the tree is a noun. I leave something on the table, that is a verb," she said.

Ruth Tomasko emphasized the s's in another group.

"The alarm clock rings, Ruth wakes up. I want s's," she said to employees Angela Perez, Susvanis Alvarez and Cruz Garcia.

"Washes the hands," Perez repeated to Tomasko.

She explained not only pronunciation and tense, but meanings.

"Can he have a blouse? No, Cruz wears a shirt," she said.

At Greenspring Village, residents participate in English lessons twice a week with the employees who have recently come to this country. Some of the classes take place during lunch, and there is another class in the afternoon. The first session ran from April to July, and the next starts in September.

Greenspring public information specialist Pamela McKinley looks at the variety of people employed at Greenspring Village.

"We have a diverse group here. It's kind of neat," she said.

Tomasko noticed progress from class to class.

"You have come a long way, class," she said.

THE CLASSES WERE a brainstorm of resident Hazel Poole and a friend from her church, Barbara Goforth, who teaches English at Springfield United Methodist church.

"We took that on as our own project. Some of them have teaching degrees," Poole said.

Tomasko used to teach in Turkey, Huenemann was a teacher's aide in New Jersey, and Carolyn Green was a Fairfax County teacher at Belle View Elementary School, where English as a Second Language was popular. They each have particulars they focus on. Tomasko acts out some of the words.

"I go to charades and the blackboard. It's working for me," she said.

Huenemann likes taking part in something that will make a difference beyond the buildings at Greenspring.

"I feel like it's a gift to me. You feel like you’re contributing to the community instead of sitting here, being pampered," she said.

They do the class entirely in English and use books financed by their own "Treasure Chest" store, an in-house thrift store in Greenspring.

Poole hears feedback about the program.

"The students say they want to communicate with the residents," she said.

Marcus Santos is from Honduras. "I have problems with pronunciation, and she's helping me, how to write," she said.

The students pay a $20 enrollment price at the beginning of the course, which is refunded at the end.

FOR THE NEXT SET of classes in September, the teachers will incorporate some of what the students have learned so far and deal with the challenge of teaching English in 30 minutes. They will try to make the classes a little longer, although some like to pack it in at lunch hour.

"I like this class. It's only 30 minutes. I'm learning some words," said Elisa Rodrigues, from El Salvador.

Laila Ibnoutela is from Morocco and knows French and Arabic. She, too, thought the class was short.

"It's a small time, 30 minutes," she said.

McKinley looked at alternatives in September.

"I know there are definite plans to expand, 45 minutes or an hour. Right now, they're doing it during their lunch time," she said.

Huenemann noticed the same thing.

"The people that I worked with seem to like the book. The time is so limited," she said.

Poole looked at advancing the curriculum as well.

"Come fall, we'll probably change to some more advanced literature," she said.